Our compulsory public education system has never been neutral or tolerant.
Blaine Amendments from the late 1800s were used by Protestants to keep Catholic schools from public money for education. Those same amendments have been used to limit parents to non-religious education choices. In 2003, a Pennsylvania school district suspended a teacher’s aide for wearing a cross while at work, limiting the employee’s right to religious expression. More recently, a football coach in Washington was fired because he prayed on the field after every game.
But education wasn’t always this way.
Most children began their learning at home during the colonial period of America. Mothers would take the responsibility to teach their children to read and write, while fathers would teach them marketable skills they would need. As the end of the 1700s approached, schools were established not by compulsion, but based upon market demand.
Entrepreneurs in the years leading up to the American Revolution established all kinds of schools and education opportunities. They were trying to find their niche in the market. Religious schools were established for every sect in each community. Grammar schools that focused on Latin and Greek became popular. Quakers in Pennsylvania established schools for the poor, women and minorities. The market demand is what drove a school’s creation and maintained its viability.
But compulsory education laws have prevented this same level of diversity in modern day schooling.
Brown v. The Board of Education was the Supreme Court ruling eliminating state-sponsored segregation in schools. Previous to this, students who wanted a better education were prevented options because public schools were legally segregated by race. Yet compulsory education laws required that all students attend their assigned school.
Many schools look similar to what they were before the Brown ruling. Black students are more likely to attend schools with populations that are mostly black. In addition, those schools are still more likely to be in low income areas which also tend to have fewer resources. And students in those areas are still required to attend because of compulsory education laws.
Today, public schools continue to be battlegrounds for ideological debates. A Texas school doesn’t allow hoodies, skirts, or dresses. Many school districts in Utah limit religious regalia during graduation ceremonies. And many other ideological conflicts persist in schools today. These incidents emphasize the strife that comes with compulsory schools.
These battles will continue because the state compels all children to attend school based upon their address.
But these issues can be solved.
If we look at national headlines about schools and ideological debates, places like Loudoun County, Virginia come to mind. Virginia is a place that has fewer educational options available to most of its families. Only 37% of students in Virginia are eligible for education choice measures, and the state offers very few charter schools.
In contrast, we hear about relatively few school conflicts in states like Arizona. Arizona currently has five different education choice scholarships. Arizona just passed another measure expanding their education choice efforts making every student eligible for some type of scholarship.
States can follow Arizona’s lead and fund family choice in education. Measures like Utah’s Hope Scholarship could provide a pressure release valve for families frustrated with public schools. Parents would be free to choose something that they want for their children. Providing families with choice eliminates the strife we find in our public schools.